PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — A Peoria woman was sentenced to four years in connection with a fatal SUV vs. bicycle accident where she had cannabis in her system.
Tears flowed freely in the second-floor courtroom at the Peoria County Courthouse, on both sides. The families of Corey Griffin and the family of Destinee Cole were openly sobbing as Chief Peoria County Judge Katherine Gorman handed down the sentence.
One woman had to be carried out of the courtroom as she was overcome with emotion. Another simply walked out as Gorman was reading Griffin’s appeal rights, his family broken with grief.
Destinee Cole, 23, had metabolized cannabis in her body on June 7, 2021, when her SUV collided with Corey Griffin’s motorized bike, killing him. She had hoped to argue that “extraordinary circumstances existed why she shouldn’t go to prison.
But Gorman, noting the difference in the statute regarding the charge of aggravated DUI, said she simply couldn’t find any and told the 23-year-old that she had to accept responsibility for what she had done.
Just 10 minutes before, Cole broke down in tears while reading a prepared statement. She paused and attempted again to finish but couldn’t. Instead, her attorney, Kevin Sullivan, read what she had written while she sat next to him crying.
“I take full responsibility. I am not a malicious person and I had no intent to hurt anyone that day,” Sullivan read. “It has affected me more than words can describe. I have a hard time fathoming what happened. I did not mean to hurt anybody.”
Cole wrote in her statement that she vowed to talk to others who use cannabis or marijuana that taking the drug and then driving isn’t proper. She wrote that she realized her actions have forever changed the lives of Griffin’s family.
“I think about him, his family and his children often. I have always been a fixer but I can’t fix this and I am to blame. I grieve for Corey, his family and his friends.”
After Sullivan finished the nearly five-minute long statement, Griffin’s family could be heard crying loudly.
In February, Cole pleaded guilty in Peoria County Circuit Court to one count of aggravated DUI as part of a deal with prosecutors that saw any possible prison term capped at eight years.
Normally, aggravated DUI carries a 14-year maximum term of imprisonment. Two lesser charges were dropped as part of the plea.
Cole had to convince Gorman why “extraordinary circumstances” should limit her punishment to probation. This form of aggravated DUI where a death is involved is different from other felonies because prison, not probation is the presumed sentence.
Cole’s Chevrolet Equinox collided with a motorized bicycle operated by 33-year-old Corey D. Griffin. The collision occurred at about 6 p.m. on June 7, 2021, near the intersection of Kellogg and Waverly avenues in West Peoria.
Police initially charged Cole with disobeying a stop sign, a traffic offense but results of laboratory tests received later indicated she had more than 5 nanograms, the legal limit, of metabolized cannabis in her system, according to court records.
During the hearing, Patricia Griffin tearfully said she missed her son, saying she was afraid of trying to live the rest of her life without her son. She missed his face, his smile and him coming over to her house each day to just say hi.
“I don’t understand why things happen the way they do,” she said. “I lost my child, not because of something he did but because of someone else’s mistake. He was on a bike. I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye, to tell him I love him.”
Another family member broke down in tears, trying to read a prepared statement and simply had to stop and walk back to her seat in the gallery.
Under the state’s “Truth-in-Sentencing” provision, Cole must serve at least 85% of her sentence.